Tuesday, July 23 2024

Original Title: ed. Alessandra Caneva.

Un anno di zapping. Guida critica ai programmi televisivi 2011-2012,

Edizioni Magi, Roma 2012)

The Italian television market lacks a stable system that measures the
quality of television programs that are broadcasted. There have been some
isolated attempts, but they are few and were carried out mainly by the RAI
through written questionnaires (VQPT, Verifica della Qualità dei Programmi Trasmessi) or telephone
interviews (IQS, Indice di Qualità e Soddisfazione). There have
also been commissions and self-regulatory codes introduced, meant to ensure
the protection of minors. It is well known however, that what dominates the
market of advertising investments—which is key to the current television
system, unfortunately even for public channels—is Auditel, a
system for quantitatively measuring audience.

No one is happy with this system (“the Auditel dictatorship” as it is
commonly referred). Moreover, it has been criticized countless times for
its lack of precision, even regarding the only parameter that it promises
to measure. For example, one defect is that it does not take into account
situations when the electronic device (the well known meter
installed in the houses that agree to be part of the monitoring) memorizes
minutes that the television is tuned-in to the channel, regardless of
whether someone is watching or not. Another highly debated aspect regards
whether the selected homes are a fair representation of the general
population, according to the geographical region, number of children,
social level, etc. Trying to verify if each member of every family follows
the rules established by the analysts is an even more problematic issue.
These rules include the necessity to mark one’s presence or absence in
front of the TV, even if it is found already on, using the corresponding
number on the remote control, at a certain distance that the company has
established, along with the meter.

This “approximate-quantitative” system for measuring audience seems to have
been accepted as the lesser evil, and few have provided concrete solutions
to offer a complimentary qualitative measuring service. This in
fact would be very useful for the same producers and advertising investors,
but would prove to be even more essential for educators and parents.

The almost complete absence of this type of work can be understood not only
because it would challenge the entire system (more than one high profile
program would disappear from the screen), but also because of the
difficulty involved in this type of evaluation. It requires a great number
of expert analysts, a huge time commitment, and above all constancy. The
first obstacle, for example, consists in establishing the various criteria
for measuring quality, which have not been agreed upon in recent years by
neither viewers nor scholars nor operators in the sector. Why, and
depending on what factors, do we consider a program to be good?
What scales can be established to judge quality? Who would be responsible
for this evaluation: a representative sample of varied viewers, or better
yet, a team of experts, parents, and educators?

Any initiative in this direction is therefore commendable, specifically the
editorial project Moige (Movimento Italiano Genitori-
Italian Parents’ Movement), which for the past five years has been trying
to inform parents, educators and even television operators- through these
“guides”- about the programs broadcasted in Italy during the time slot of child protection (from 7:00 AM to 11:30 PM).

The structure of the fifth edition is similar to previous ones, but there
are novelties. Among the constant good attributes is the central part of
the book, which unifies entertainment programs in alphabetical order, each
with its introductory information (quantitative data about audience,
time/day and channel of broadcast, genre, name of writers or main
characters, etc.), its qualitative evaluation (with five scoring levels)
and its suitability by age (ages 10, 12, 14, 18, or not advisable). The
evaluation for each program always includes a lengthy review written by an
expert in communications, education and/or psychology. This edition of the
book also offers a glossary at the end, including the most important
technical terms used in the reviews such as flashback, share, spin off, and many others.

On the other hand, one of the most important new features of this edition
is the inclusion of two new sections, found close to where the book refers
to entertainment programs. One of these sections is dedicated to cartoons
with almost 40 titles, and the other is dedicated to advertisement, with a
selection of 30 ads. Both have the same structure as the first, as well as
an evaluation not only of their technical aspects, but above all, of their
hidden messages that are even sometimes subliminal. They take account of
the possible psychological effects these messages can have on an audience
of children.

Not only are the evaluations expressed with a symbol next to each program
(a red, yellow, or green traffic light close to the other symbols
indicating quality) but comments are also added inside the reviews when the
situation requires. This proves yet again the depth, seriousness, and
usefulness of the Moige’s monitoring. The team of authors remains
relatively stable despite a few variations. They are: Elisabetta Scala, who
serves as project coordinator, due to her role as Director of the Moige‘s Osservatorio Media. Contributing this time as
editor is Alessandra Caneva, a university professor of Creative Writing and
writer of several successful TV series. Daniela Delfini collaborated once
more. With a Bachelor of Arts in Film History, she has worked on many
programs, not only in fiction, as both an author and a producer. Four
others complete the team: the critic Francesco Dentici (a Bachelor in
Educational Sciences with a Master in Multimedia Communications), Francesca
Orlando (a Psychotherapist and the author of several books), Maria Carlotta
Quintilliani (author and painter, a graduate in Art History) and Maria
Isabella Quintilliani (a graduate in Psychological Studies and Techniques,
collaborator on many programs about childhood, and an expert in children’s
playwriting).

The book’s prologue is written by Anna Oliverio Ferraris, a Professor of
Developmental Psychology at the “Sapienza” University of Rome. She explains
the purpose of dedicating a part of the guide to advertising.
“Communication…is a complex and multiform reality,” she writes, “it
contains explicit, evident aspects, as well as hidden, implicit aspects. We
are conscious of the first, but not always of the second. Both however, are
types of messages that reach our mind and activate our emotions…. I hope
that this guide from Moige can have an impact on both advertisers
and those in charge of television programming.”

Perhaps there is only one difficulty in the guide, and it is in fact,
purely formal. In order to maintain structural and esthetic coherence,
space for the reviews was limited to one page per program. Consequently,
the body of letters is greatly diminished, and this could prove too short
for certain readers. Likewise, the colors (green on yellow) could be more
difficult to read in comparison with the earlier editions.

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